Beginning June 10, 2020, Indonesia’s National University reportedly issued disciplinary measures against six students for their participation in campus protests over tuition fees.
The protests occurred amid demands that National University cut tuition fees for the 2019-2020 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The university agreed to reduce fees, but only to a limited number of students. Students called upon the administration to increase transparency around the fee deductions and to decrease the tuition for all students by fifty percent. Students established an alliance called the UNAS Gawat Darurat (UGD), which translates as National University Under Emergency, to coordinate their organizing efforts.
From June 10 to June 12, thirty-one students were reportedly investigated by the University Disciplinary Commission on charges of defaming the university. Following calls for transparency, UGD organized a series of protests on campus and requested meetings with university leaders. In early July, the university reprimanded six of the students, accusing them of defamation and violating campus rules, and imposing sanctions including expulsion for three students, and suspension for another three. Additionally, the university issued verbal warnings against fifteen students who took part in the protests.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about severe sanctions, including suspension and expulsion of students, in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, suspensions and expulsions aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.